One day to the American declaration of freedom from British tyranny? That’s all we give?

Respectfully, I dissent.

Edward Savage and/or Robert Edge Pine, “Congress Voting the Declaration of Independence,” c. 1776. Copyprint of oil on canvas, courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Yesterday, on the occasion of a nation’s unalienable love for hot dogs and hamburgers, I posted a brief speech uttered by Judge Learned Hand that I thought touched well upon the sentiments that underlie our Oath of Allegiance. You may read it here.

Today, the revelry isn’t done. I enjoyed an item that came my way via the great folks at the Library of Congress.

As they say:

“The Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and heavily amended by the Continental Congress, boldly asserted humanity’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as well as the American colonies’ right to revolt against an oppressive British government. Jefferson’s ‘original Rough draught’ illustrates Jefferson’s literary flair and records key changes made by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Continental Congress before its July 4, 1776 adoption.”

(Taken from Our Nation’s Archives: The History of the United States in Documents, edited by Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby, Black Dog & Levanthal Publishers Inc. 1999)

To make your perusal easier, I’ve broken the document into three images.

The annotations reveal a few fascinating things to me:

  • The strengths and ideal concepts that characterize our republic were hard fought and hard negotiated.
  • Because writing is thinking made visible, then I plan to scan every line of these images, which may reveal “what might have been.”
  • Writing students who insist that their first draft is “good enough” are not only lazy and deluded—they are far from Revolutionary.

To see the image on the Library of Congress page, go here.

Judge Learned Hand

Happy Independence Day. Few people may be reading blogs today, but for those who are, you may enjoy a speech delivered back in 1944, during an event billed as “I Am An American Day.”

The writer—and speaker? Judge Learned Hand. He, of course, was a trial judge and later a Circuit Judge, and “Hand has been quoted more often than any other lower-court judge by legal scholars and by the Supreme Court of the United States.” Here are his moving words:

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion.

Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land. What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty – freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This then we sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning. What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty?

I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of those men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an American which has never been, and which may never be – nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it – yet in the spirit of America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America so prosperous, and safe, and contented, we shall have failed to grasp its meaning, and shall have been truant to its promise, except as we strive to make it a signal, a beacon, a standard to which the best hopes of mankind will ever turn; In confidence that you share that belief, I now ask you to raise you hand and repeat with me this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands–One nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.